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FOR THE KIDS : Chess Instructor Plans Next Move to Interest Youngsters : Larry Scott has taught the game for 12 years through the Ventura Parks and Recreation Department, and he's hoping a current movie on the subject will lead to more board sets being placed in classrooms.

September 09, 1993|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You've heard of the Fried Liver Attack? Or maybe the Fool's Mate? They're just a couple of the tricks and traps Larry Scott teaches kids who sign up for his chess class.

For 12 years he's taught the finer points of the game to a steady trickle of students who have taken his six-week class through the Ventura Parks and Recreation Department.

But this fall he's girding for a surge in interest, now that the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" has been out awhile. The movie is based on the life of chess genius Josh Waitzkin, whose extraordinary skills at age 7 invited comparisons to the elusive chess great, Bobby Fischer.

Scott, 43, hasn't seen the movie yet. He was too busy last week preparing his classroom at the Douglas Penfield School in Ventura for incoming second-graders. Among the books and other classroom supplies he was unloading were some chess sets he keeps around to teach kids in his classroom.

"I've never had a kid who couldn't learn," he said. Even second-graders.

The class he teaches for the recreation department is for older children, 8 through 11 years old. It starts Sept. 30 and the group meets once a week for one hour.

"Most of the kids already know how to play," he said. For half the class time, they play each other. For the rest, Scott gives them pointers and teaches them strategy. They don't play with clocks like the speed chess players and tournament competitors in the movie. He preaches a slower, more thoughtful game.

"There's no question it develops their thinking skills," he said.

It also teaches them concentration and patience. At the same time, Scott's classes are relaxed and have more of a club-like feel. He sometimes tells his students stories about the game and its heroes.

He hopes the movie spurs new interest in the game. Chess mania peaked in this country in 1972, when Fischer won the world championship.

"It was big," Scott said. "Everyone followed Fischer. Then he retired at the height of his career. We were all disappointed."

It was during this period of chess fever that Scott coached a team of students from Ventura's Poinsettia Elementary School where he held a teaching job. In 1976, the team won first place in the U.S. Elementary School Chess Championship.

Meanwhile, Scott himself was honing his own chess skills. He had learned the game when he was 7 but had never played in tournaments or read a chess book. He began playing competitively, but gave it up 10 years ago because of family and work pressures.

Scott would like to see more chess in the schools. "There is so little chess there now," he said. "Every teacher should have a board in the classroom. How many geniuses are out there who will never be found because they've never seen the game?"

Officials with the U.S. Chess Federation in New Windsor, N.Y., said the movie has already sparked new interest among children. In the last 10 days more than 100 schools had requested information about the organization.

One school here is already deep into chess. Gateway Community School, a countywide high school for students at risk of dropping out, has offered a chess class for students the last two years.

It all started when one of Mark Larson's students saw his chess board in the classroom and challenged the teacher to a game.

"He beat the pants off me," Larson said. Then other students wanted to learn. Soon he was teaching a 75-minute class once a week.

Most have never played, so he teaches them the basics. "I show them a few things to watch out for --we don't use the word tricks. I also show them how to build a good defense."

The game sharpens their critical thinking skills, he said, and teaches them "life lessons" such as thinking before they make a move. The class has positive benefits for the children, many of whom have low self-esteem. They have fun, but they concentrate and work.

"They leave the class exhausted," Larson said. If they want credit for the class, they can do additional reading and problem-solving tasks. To spice up the session, he has invited a chess expert for simultaneous games with the students.

Last week, Larson was getting ready for the start of school with one new addition for his classroom: a poster of the movie's hero, young Josh, peering across a chess board.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Larry Scott's chess class, offered through the Ventura Parks and Recreation Department, will meet for six weeks beginning Sept. 30. Classes will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays at Barranca Vista Recreation Center. The cost is $30. For information, call 658-4726.

Kids interested in serious chess may join the Ventura Chess Club, which meets on Tuesdays from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura, 1929 Johnson Drive, Ventura.

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